Friday, March 16, 2018

My "How-To" for Intimacy With God

I am learning how to cook.

Don't get me wrong, I can follow a recipe. I can measure our ingredients and set timers. I have a subscription to "Southern Living" and at least three Pinterest boards dedicated to organizing my culinary dreams. I peruse my collection of Pioneer Woman cookbooks to find something new to try.

Yet, I often find myself intimidated to alter a published, proven recipe to make it my own. I appreciate the step-by-step instructions that "should" lead to proven success.

My husband is a great cook. As we watch the Food Network and the Cooking Chanel, he gleans ideas and methods to try and experiment with. He will see flavor combinations and want to try new things. He might consult a recipe or two, but he will concoct something on his own adding a dash of this with a bit of that. It is usually delicious.

I am afraid of messing it up. I don't want to waste the ingredients or the money spent on them. Plus, if the dish is a success, how will I ever know how to repeat it? The fear is real, but I am gaining confidence and and faith in myself as I am learning to overcome it.

Not only am I a recipe follower, I am also a list maker and a rule follower. I appreciate being able to cross things off my to-do list and to know exactly what is expected of me in any given situation. Whether it is a recipe, a list or a rule - I can respect the planning, the preparation and the procedure prescribed to bring about the desired result . . .

Intersect that with what God has been showing me this week - a calling to be intimate with Him.

I long for a method described in a book that will lead me to simply embrace being with Him, or at least accurately describes what that looks like for me. I know that these resources exist and I trust that by His good graces, He is already showing me points to start at and places to continue from.

However, intimacy with God is a deeply personal and individual journey - with a clear beginning and definite end. For all of us Christ-followers, our origin stories will have definitive similarities and our eventual destination is all the same. Yet, this middle part we are in now is as unique as our Creator-given DNA.

There is no proven recipe to follow.

There is no list that will produce the desired outcome.

There is no set of rules that will not preclude into legalism.

So, how do we learn to be with God instead of just doing things for Him?

I can't speak for you and your journey, but I can try to share what God is showing me for mine. .  .

First, He has impressed upon me a need to embrace quiet. I wrote about that in my first blog post of the week.

Then in the silences this week, He has impressed upon me a need to listen and to learn. When my attention is on Him, He shows me scriptures in a new light. He reveals ways to apply His truth. He allows me to experience more of who He is.

Specifically, as He has led me into a deeper intimacy with Him and I have loved it! It has been literally soul-gratifying and freeing.

What has this intimacy produced?

When I dump the distraction of lesser things and deny the demands of my hectic, fast passed life:  He has revealed to me my dependence on recipes for success. He has shown me my addiction to that feeling of accomplishment when I cross items off my to-do list. He has allowed me to see areas of my life where I have been striving to meet my own expectations of the rules I have set up for myself.

It is unsettling for me to not have a plan to pursue a deeper intimacy with God. Yes, I can put myself in places to hear from Him. I can practice spiritual disciplines, but I realize that it is only by His grace that these things I do will bring about the closeness that I desire.

It is honestly a little scary for me to forsake list making. However, I realize that in order to just "be" or "live" in the moment, I have to sacrifice my perceived need of getting the next thing done -because, let's face it, there is always a "next thing."

That small adrenaline rush of crossing off that item comes with a sense of personal accomplishment that can easily and temporarily replace that God-given thirst I have for Christ.

Only He can finish what He began in me. I can't follow the rules enough. I can't do enough good in His name. I can't be what I require of myself to serve Him. My attempts only fuel the dreaded to-do list. It is a vicious cycle ---

In the silence, God calls me to rest and to realize my identity in Him. It is in this intimacy, this realization that I can simply  -  be. with. God.

So, enough with the recipe. So much for the list. Goodbye rules - for now I am learning to trust, not in me, or what I do, but in Him and in Him alone.

I am learning how to be intimate with my God.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Dwelling in Intimacy

You really come to know and understand someone when you live with them.

Ask my college roommates. I promise there was a legitimate reason I had 4 roomies in my first 2 years of school.

Ask my husband. That first year of marriage is a real eye-opener to many couples.  I know it was for us.

Think about it, when someone comes to visit, we break out our best behavior, we fuss over the menu and we pull out all the stops to make sure everything looks the best.

But, when someone comes to stay, to move in and to live with you, you make some initial accommodations at first. Soon however the formalities fade and frictions arise as life falls into routines and normalcy. In the living together we really get to know each other. In the living together we can easily become complacent. In the living together the intimacy that drew us together at first can slowly slip away.

In John 1, we're told the Word became flesh to dwell among us. How better for us to learn and to know our God than for Him to live with us. The original language here gives the imagery of Christ pitching a tent in order to stay awhile. All this so we could do life together that we might have an unimaginable intimacy with our Creator.

In Romans 8, the same word is used by Paul to describe our relationship with God's Spirit. He dwells in us. We are His tent. . .

With God's Spirit dwelling within us, we have the best, the most incredible opportunity to know God. He is living in us, with us. We can pursue our relationship with God through the indwelling of the Spirit and grow in intimacy with God.

Yet, in the mundane, everyday tasks of life, I can easily become complacent. I take for granted that the Spirit of the Most High dwells within me. I relegate aspects of my life to Him and exclude Him from others. The first one I should go to with my problems and frustrations becomes the last.

In my efforts to be obedient and live out what I say I believe, I find myself doing things for God instead of living every aspect of my life with Him. Living like this, in my own effort, I become weary and tired. From outside appearances I seem to have it altogether, but inside I am overwhelmed and scared that someone will learn how weak and defeated I feel.

The relationship of my faith can quickly, easily slip into disfunction and it is all my own doing:

  • It's so hard to believe and accept that Jesus loves me the way that I am. 
  • I feel like I need to prove to be worthy of my salvation. 
  • I want to be in control and determine what is best for me. 

The list of ways I continue to try to sabotage my relationship with my Lord could go on and on - yet when I stop striving and simply just start to be with Him - allowing Him dominion over every aspect of my life -no matter how ordinary and inconsequential that it may seem- intimacy can once again be restored. It is in these everyday, common place moments He teaches me the most, grows my faith and prepares me for whatever lies ahead. Through this intimacy I can learn more about my amazing God and accept who I am in relation to Him...

For me it is all about learning to dwell with God as He dwells within me. I want the intimacy that comes with the familiarity of living with Him. But, I don't want to take Him for granted.

Just like I want to have a growing, vibrant married relationship with the man I share a house with - I want that kind of intimacy with the Savior I gave my life to because He gave His life for me.

As I live with Him I will truly come to know God. As I dwell with my Lord in this life I will get a taste of the life to come (the restoration of when He dwelt with the first man and woman of His creation in the Garden) and to experience full life now as He promised (the realization of His incredible faithfulness to keep every singe one of His promises to me).

This is the intimacy I want -no I NEED, to dwell in...

Monday, March 12, 2018

Quiet Intimacy

Living in a house with three kids, there is rarely a moment's silence.

Even after bedtimes, the television drones, the washing machine moans and the dishwasher whirls. (I am thankful it doesn't whine! I hear enough of that without the inanimate objects joining in!)

I have found even in the rare moments that I find myself alone in the car, I struggle with the quiet. I turn the radio on -even if just to zone out to the sports talk station that my husband left on the dial.

When doing housework or even writing I appreciate some sort of background noise. It's true, at times it helps me focus on the task at hand. But, other times I must confess it serves as more of a distraction from a greater task that God may be impressing upon me.

What is that impression? I am learning it demands the ultimate focus and a willingness to delve into hard things- rolling up my sleeves, shedding some tears and facing fears.  In the quiet I find Him gently impressing me to press into Him.

I heard a great devotion this morning from a man serving as a biblical counselor with over 40 years experience as a pastor. He expanded for us the definition of the word "intimacy." In his counseling of married couples, he was finding many of them had intimacy issues that were far more challenging then what was transpiring in their bedrooms. In his research and study he had learned that real intimacy is knowing and being fully known by someone else. He said he was surprised to learn the lack of true intimacy within these marital relationships.

In Ephesians, Paul equates the martial relationship as a metaphor of Christ's relationship with us, His church. He calls this relationship a great mystery and so it is. This type of intimacy is the same type of relationship that God wants to establish with us, His children. - with me, His child.

Here's the thing that gets me - that is simply beyond my understanding. He already knows me. Psalm 139 says that in the first verse: He has searched me and He knows me. Before a word is even on my tongue, He knows it completely.

So where does this intimacy between God and I fall short? Where is the weak link?

The devotion this morning also included this thought - we are as close to God as we chose to be.

He doesn't fail to be intimate. I do.

Yes, I am busy. I would even say most of the time I am busy doing things for Him - but am I doing them with Him?

Far to easily my Bible study becomes merely one more thing on my to-do list. I breeze over the pages of my Bible without really comprehending what I read, much less stopping to try to apply it. My prayers become one-way conversations at best, but could probably be better described as a laundry list of wishes.

It is in the quiet - when I allow the quiet to invade my busy - that God gently calls me deeper. He is beckoning me to seek Him, to know Him more, to know Him more intimately. Honestly, many times I don't like the quiet. I don't really want to hear what He will tell me in His still small voice.

I know that if I accept that invitation to become more intimate with Him, His Spirit will expose more of me to me. Sins, failures, shames, insecurities, will be exposed in the Light of His Righteousness. Those things He wants to free me from, those things He already knows about -but in my distracted, noisy, busy lifestyle I try to push aside and gloss over and pretend that they don't exist.

It is SO much easier to be busy, to be distracted, to zone out - yet when I give into those temptations, I sacrifice the intimacy I was made to crave and that can only truly satisfy me.

He tells us to take up our cross and follow Him. An intimate relationship with Him is costly.

He tells us to seek Him first. An intimate relationship with Him cannot be realized without being willing to be vulnerable with our Creator.

He tells us that we are a new creation in Him. An intimate relationship with Him is how He is renewing us with His new mercies every morning.

For me, I striving to turn off the background noise -even the praise music that's on repeat, so I can hear the quiet. I am trying to really listen to what He is saying to me. I am confessing that I have resembled my teenaged daughter's tendency to be physically in a room but completely tuned out in every other capacity. I am praying to seek the intimacy that can only be found in my embracing the literal quiet.

Being still and knowing He is God is taking on a new meaning to me this week. I am hoping to share more of this journey with you as write . . . Please pray for me to embrace the quiet and grow intimacy with God. Please know that this is my prayer for you too. . .

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Retreat Time!

If you are reading this quick post, I am already heading to East Tennessee for the big ministers' wives retreat this weekend.  I cannot tell you how excited I am to get to come back "home" and see my Tennessee sisters.  I can't wait to laugh till my stomach hurts and to hug your necks.

I hope to see all of you there.  You won't be able to miss me.  I will be the short, chunky, crazy blonde gal eating chocolate.  (Girlfriends, I know there will be LOTS of chocolate at the retreat because I know the gals putting the retreat together).  So here is my quick thought about this weekend's retreat:

R-reuniting with Sisters in Ministry who love
E-eating chocolate as much as I do.
T-taking off the ministry mask and getting to be a
R-real person with a real name.
E-everyone laughs till their bellies hurt
A-and a few tears may fall but no judgement will be found because
T-true sisters in ministry always have each other's backs.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Dangerous Donut Holes

Have you ever sat and chatted with a young child about Jesus or stories from the Bible?  It is always interesting the highlights they can remember or how their embellishments add a hint of humor to the Bible story.

 The other day my daughter-in-love, who is the mother of two very active preschoolers, shared that she taught the preschoolers during worship service that day.  That day the Bible lesson was about Esther and how she invited the king to a royal feast.  They began to discuss the possible food that was on the banquet table.  All the toddlers, including my two-year-old grandson, agreed that donut holes were definitely on the menu.   She then sent a picture of the entire class all smiling surrounding a huge plate of donut holes.  The only child not looking at the camera was my grandson.  His mischievous little brown eyes were locked on to the donut hole feast laid out before him.

I share all this in fun but there is a message here.  There are so many people in the world today and in our churches who have a “different” idea about God.  One of the most recent ideas I have heard is that Christians are not called to share the gospel.  This person did not believe the Great Commission applied to today’s world but only to the early church.  My husband was patient with this person and simply asked, “Are there not lost people in the world today?  Do you believe the Bible is the LIVING word of God?”  The person stated yes to both questions.  Then my husband began to explain and share why it is vital that each Christian is called upon to bring others with them to heaven.  He then discovered that this person was uncomfortable sharing their faith so they CREATED their own “dangerous” version to scripture.

Although it is fun to imagine what food might have been served at a king’s banquet table, we must help people stick to the truth of God’s word.  Many people cannot accept that there is only ONE WAY to heaven through Jesus Christ.  They do not want anyone going to hell so they have people believing that any god will get them to heaven.  In John 14:6, Jesus stated, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Sometimes people make innocent donut holes in to dangerous donut holes by taking the Bible out of context and creating a new “gospel” to fit their needs.  Sisters, we need to be diligent to share the truth of God’s word at all times.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Get Rid of Your Junk

Junk drawers! They hold all types of “treasures” that get misplaced and forgotten.   If you are like me, you have at least one in your home.  I will admit we have three junk drawers.

I recently “decluttered” the junk drawer in the kitchen.  I honestly think I filled a Kroger bag full of scrap paper, several screws from who knows what, and a lot of general mess that took up space.  The drawer is somewhat organized with a few notepads, a couple of pens, and box tops that I save for my grandson. 

After I tackled that drawer, I decided to “explore” the drawer of my bedside table.  As soon as I pulled it open, I was overwhelmed.  How did all that “stuff” get in the drawer!  I spent the next couple of hours sorting through piles of junk-an old cell phone, physical therapy exercise instructions, pens, paper, cough drops, and so much more.  I even found Chuck E Cheese tokens and a small bag of M & M’s stuffed in the drawer!  That day I threw away almost everything in the drawer. (Oh, I kept the tokens because I know there is a Chuck E Cheese visit on the horizon.  I ate the M & M’s because you should NEVER waste chocolate). 

As I have thought on those junk drawers, I realized I keep too much stuff that has no value.  After a while the junk becomes overwhelming and the drawer becomes difficult to shut.  Hmm, isn’t that like our life when we hide our sin or stuff down bitterness?

I am trying to be more intentional this year and attempt to declutter not only my home but also my life.  I have a long way to go but so far it is freeing.

God does not want us to hide our sin.  We don’t and can’t even hide our junk from the Lord.  Let’s face it ladies.  We cannot even hide the hurt of ministry from the Lord.  He sees and knows EVERYTHING. 

So, girlfriends, here is another challenge for you this year.  Go declutter your junk drawer.  While you are at it, declutter the junk in your life.  I promise, both are freeing.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

He's With Us

The “empty nest”.

What will that be like? How will I feel?

It’s hard for me to believe that about a year and a half from now I will be (hopefully, prayerfully) sending my youngest child off to college. That’s a scary thought…will I be ready?

Indeed, that will be a new season in my life, in our home, in our marriage. I’ve heard of other parents really struggling with letting the last child go. In a sense, I’m already preparing myself mentally; after all the Lord gives us our children to raise them, but we cannot hold on to them.

I guess the thing that has put the “empty nest syndrome” on my mind a lot lately is that we are in the midst of preparing for several upcoming college visits, and some are very far from home!

I know that she will be okay wherever the Lord, in His perfect will, leads her. Yes, we are praying for her to be in the Lord’s will, even if it means sending her all the way across the country! I know, with confidence, that He will be with her. He is always with her; He is always with us.

The longer I walk with the Lord, the more I know and trust that His will is best, and I know that I can trust Him with every season of my life, even with the “empty nest”.

I’ve seen Him comfort and encourage me in all that I have been through. There have been some really wonderful life experiences, and some trials that have left me terribly brokenhearted. Yet, He has always been there, even when I was not aware of His presence.

I actually plan to enjoy these college trips as we navigate the selection process, because my faith tells me that HE will lead us to the right one……. His will be done!

So, trust the Lord with your seasons of life, for HE IS WITH US!